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A meditation on Ephesians 5:18-21


Apart from placing it contrast with being drunk with wine Paul does not tell us what ‘be filled with the Spirit’ means. He does, however, tell us what it looks like. He follows the command to be filled with the Spirit with five present participles describing the kind of things we will be doing when we are filled with the Spirit. In some English Bibles some of these words are translated as additional commands, but that is not how it is in the Greek.

The one command, be filled with the Spirit, is in the present tense, indicating an on-going continuity of action. The five descriptive participles, are also in the present tense, indicating the on-going attitudes and actions that come from being filled with the Spirit.

The first of these descriptions of being filled with the Spirit is ‘speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’. We will speak God’s truth to our fellow believers. This ties in with what Paul has already taught in 4:10-16, 25-27, 29- 32; 5:1-4, that what we say to each other should build up, strengthen, encourage. What can do that more than talking to each other about Christ and his salvation – the truths of God we remember in our ‘psalms, hymns, spiritual songs’.

The second and third are ‘singing and making music in your heart to the Lord’. This is not our conversation with other believers, but our inner conversation with and in the presence of the Lord. The person who is filled with the Spirit, the person who lives under the Spirit’s control and direction will have a song deep in their hearts – a song of peace, joy, praise, confidence, trust – that sings to the Lord even when external circumstances would deny his existence.

The fourth is ‘always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This is the attitude of thankfulness that will characterize those who have learned from the Spirit both who Jesus really is and what Jesus really did. It is the thankfulness of those who have learned also from the Spirit how utterly destitute they are, how utterly condemned, how utterly hopeless, apart from Christ and his immeasurable grace.

The fifth, which many people fail to connect with the command to be filled with the Spirit, is ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ’. This is expected of every believer: that each of us, recognizing how Jesus Christ the Lord of glory, put all of his rights and reputation aside and became nothing – unrecognized, despised, rejected, crucified, dead, buried – for us men and our salvation: each of us, in reverence for this Christ, will in the same way, live our lives submitting to one another: giving up our rights, our reputation and our agendas, for the well being of our Christian brothers and sisters.


Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2011